Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Long Hard Ride of Damian Lopez Alfonso

What an incredible, inspiring story!

WITH only the tips of his elbows touching his bicycle's upturned handlebars, Damian Lopez Alfonso pedaled along the Hudson River bike path on a cool March day. His balancing act elicited stares from disbelieving pedestrians and curious double-takes from fellow cyclists.

Because not only does Mr. Alfonso ride his bike without forearms, lost in a devastating childhood accident, but he also rides it very, very fast.

…Despite his disadvantages, Mr. Alfonso, 34, has won local competitions at home in Cuba and he races nearly every weekend against able-bodied cyclists in informal events. But the alterations to his bike that allow him to do so — turning the handlebars nearly 180 degrees upward, so the brakes and gear shifters face him — have also kept him out of officially sanctioned international competitions, which have strict equipment rules.

But not for much longer.

In July, Mr. Alfonso is scheduled to race in Canada, the first event on his road to qualifying for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. If all goes well, it will be the culmination of a nearly decade-long journey for Mr. Alfonso, a story of sudden tragedy, grim determination and a little help from a lot of perfect strangers in a bicycling community thousands of miles away.

…Perhaps it is his surprising self-confidence that draws people in, leading them to help a stranger from Cuba who never asked for any help.

Whatever the reason, the cyclists who have rallied around Mr. Lopez took their common interest and used it to turn the big city into a small town, a place where bonds form by chance and compelling need is met with overwhelming generosity.

Mr. Alfonso, who had never visited New York before arriving in December for a series of medical tests, now calls it "the best city in the world." And here, as in his native Havana, everyone simply calls him Damian.

The 4-minute video is at:


The Long Hard Ride of Damian Lopez Alfonso

Published: June 9, 2011

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